Third lockdown may cause additional 100,000 unemployed, official says

National Insurance Institute says 620,000 currently relying on unemployment benefits, as economy continues to take a pummeling from closures

A man walks through a closed market amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, in Tel Aviv, September 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
A man walks through a closed market amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, in Tel Aviv, September 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

With Israel in its third nationwide lockdown, the National Insurance Institute’s director-general Meir Spiegler estimated Monday that “around 100,000 will join those entitled to unemployment benefits in the coming closure.”

According to the NII, 620,000 Israelis are currently relying on unemployment benefits, of whom some 400,000 have done so since the pandemic reached Israel in March, battering the economy.

Spiegler’s prediction would take that number to over 700,000.

In December, prior to the latest lockdown, 24,000 Israelis returned to their workplaces from furlough. But simultaneously almost 10,000 lost their jobs.

“We have been in a state of emergency since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Spiegler told Army Radio, adding that the NII was constantly adapting in order to ease bureaucracy and enable those who lost their jobs to receive benefits.

National Insurance Institute director general Meir Spiegler at a conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) on September 3, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The lockdown that began Sunday is set to last at least two weeks, with officials warning it could be extended to a month. The closure shuttered nonessential commerce, leisure and entertainment, and limited workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity.

Daily virus cases in Israel have been climbing upward in recent weeks, surpassing 3,000 on most days over the past week.

During the first outbreak of the virus in the spring,  unemployment figures issued by the Employment Service spiked as 800,000 people quickly lost work in Israel’s initial lockdown.

They have since fluctuated as the country has moved in and out of restrictions and closures.

Many business owners have decried the latest shutdown as a fatal blow to their livelihoods, which suffered greatly during the first and second lockdowns in the spring and fall.

Closed shops in Mamilla Jerusalem on October 1, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Some businesses have vowed to defy the latest lockdown rules that forbid them from opening, citing their financial woes and insufficient government compensation.

Channel 13 reported that representatives of business owners are set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. They are expected to ask the premier to make sure the restrictions on their activities don’t last longer than two weeks.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on December 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government has provided unemployment stipends to those who lost their jobs, as well as periodic grants to independent businesses, but many have said that these allowances are woefully insufficient to cover their everyday needs and soaring expenses.

In early December, the OECD projected that Israel’s economy will grow a mere 2.3% in 2021, below the global average, after contracting 4.2% this year, as increased unemployment and a likely rise in insolvencies after the previous national lockdown weigh on economic recovery.

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